cover image The Phoenix Guards

The Phoenix Guards

Steven Brust. Tor Books, $19.95 (331pp) ISBN 978-0-312-85157-6

Brust's ( Phoenix ) latest does not involve the hero of his ongoing Vlad Taltos series, but it is set in the same world, Dragaera, 1000 years earlier, and shares the wit and exhuberance of the Taltos books. Khaavren, a young swordsman, sets out to join the Imperial Guards under the recently ascended Phoenix Emperor. On the way to the capital, he falls in with three other aspiring Guards, and they form an inseparable quartet of flashing blades and impeccable manners. Unwittingly, Khaavren and company are soon enmeshed in secret plots reaching from the Imperial Palace to the far borders of the empire, with only their skill, wits and blind luck to see them through. In self-conscious homage to the works of Alexandre Dumas and Raphael Sabatini, Brust blends snappy, playful dialogue with circuitous narrative passages. Although the plot's naked contrivance verges on parody, Khaavren and his friends are charming, albeit shallow, heroes whose adventure should win Brust more readers, if his adopted style does not throw them off. (Sept.)